Images of climate innovation

Penguin metropolis

This image shows Heroina Island, host of over 500,000 Adélie penguins, and is the third-largest colony known. Many penguin colonies have not been visited for decades, therefore determining how penguins might be responding to climate change, krill fishery and marine mammal populations is impossible for many sites. This British Antarctic Survey-led project is transforming the understanding of penguin populations by applying high-resolution aerial photography systems to wildlife census.

An aerial photograph of Heroina Island, host of over 500,000 Adlie penguins

The Danger Islands lie at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and are home to over 1.5 million Adlie penguins, more than all other colonies in the region combined.

The image was taken during an airborne survey in November 2019 as part of the British Antarctic Survey's Antarctic Peninsula Penguin Census (APPC) project. APPC plans to measure penguin population change against a 2013 baseline survey, assessing the combined impacts of regional ecosystem change, including climate change.

Over half of the 500+ known colonies have no recent population estimate in this century. The image highlights the size of some penguin colonies and the challenge of monitoring these species. Improved data and an increased commitment to monitoring are vital to assess climate change-related impacts on penguins, including through habitat change and effects on krill abundance and distribution. The resolution of the aerial image is about 5 cm, allowing individual birds to be counted with computer-assisted techniques, something not yet achievable for these species with even the highest resolution satellite imagery.

Many colonies can be photographed on a single flight, allowing regional coverage in a few days, enabling accurate population estimates at the optimum point in the breeding cycle. The International Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) sets krill catch limits using the best available science. Part of CCAMLR's objective is to conserve ecological relationships within the Southern Ocean ecosystem and the results of our research will help inform CCAMLR's Ecosystem Monitoring Programme. Long-term monitoring will be vital for providing an ecosystem 'health check' and for informing future management options.

Monitoring is now essential in the context of a changing climate, particularly for the Antarctic Peninsula which is one of the fastest-warming parts of the Southern Ocean. Linkages with WWF will help raise awareness of regional climate change in Antarctica and its impacts on Antarctic and Southern Ocean ecosystems.

Entrant: Nathan Fenney , British Antarctic Survey (BAS)

Copyright: Nathan Fenney, British Antarctic Survey